Willow Oil Project Approval Raise Concerns for Climate Change

By Yashika Sharma

March 14, 2023
willow oil project area 2019 image
Willow Oil Project, Alaska 2019

After mounting pressure to approve the ConocoPhillips’s 8 billion dollar “Willow Oil project” for about 5 years, the American government finally approved it and it immediately created a stir among environmentalists and climate change activists.

Conservation groups constantly urged to reject the project before the approval by protesting outside the White House, arguing that it will endanger wildlife and sabotage the president’s goals to tackle climate change.

Anyway, after weeks of contemplation, officials finally agreed to approve ConocoPhillips’ ambitious oil project and supporters claim it as an “economic lifeline”.

What is the Willow Oil Drilling Project?

The Willow oil project is a 3-decade-long project which aims to produce up to 180,000 barrels of crude oil a day, willow’s impressive 8 billion tag makes it the biggest oil project ever proposed in the US.

ConocoPhillips requested 5 drilling sites in Alaska and the government approved three of those located in the arctic coastal plains.

The Bureau of Land Management estimates willow could generate around 8-17 billion dollars of revenue.

As for Alaska, the project promises an economic boost after the sharp decline in oil production from the 1980s, providing revenue to combat poverty, and supporting local indigenous communities.

Concerns of Environmental Activitist on Willow Oil Project Approval

Conservationists state that new drilling activities could jeopardize endangered wildlife habitats and unleash carbon emissions that we can’t afford to burn at this point.

Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford says, we will have to leave fossil fuels in the ground and that time is now and particularly in a vulnerable ecosystem like the arctic.

Despite the economic surge willow promises to provide in Alaska, the state has felt the impacts of climate change, coastal erosions, random wildfires, and thinning of sea ice, and the project is destined to worsen the effect of climate change.

The IEA (International Energy Agency), said new investments and oil and gas drilling must be halted if countries like the US, hope to reach their 2050 goal of net-zero emissions.

The demand for oil and fossil fuels is ever-increasing even when the planet continues to heat.

Electric vehicles offer a substitute for the rising demand for oil but it has barely affected the energy sector.


Activists argue that this decision of the government clearly conflicts with president Biden’s pledge in his campaigns to not approve any oil, gas, or coal projects to mitigate climate change.

The approval of the Willow project makes a turning point in the government’s plan to approach climate change and fossil fuels development.

Why did Biden approve the project ignoring the expected backlash?

Biden approved the project, even after the mass criticisms given by environmental activists over its climate and wildlife impact.

This decision really puts Biden in a political juxtaposition, US’s oil supplies are severely affected by Russo-Ukraine War, resulting in sky-high prices of gas.

So to address the bread butter issue and country and to reduce backlash from people for high gas prices, Biden finally approved of the Willow project.

And by approving the reduced version of the Willow plan he managed to preserve his image of an adamant to mitigating climate change.

One of the reasons the government agreed to approve this project was, because ConocoPhillips had a lease on the oil fields of Alaska giving them rights to work on the land, if Biden disagreed then the company could fire a 5 billion dollars lawsuit against the government.

The lease doesn’t actually give them anything to do with the land, but the lawsuit is a good enough reason to consider.

What does the Willow project mean for the environment?

Burning of oil from the Willow project is estimated to produce 280 million metric tons of emissions, according to a federal analysis.


That would produce about 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution, the United States is the most polluting country after China, emitting about 5.6 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Regardless of the fact that the Willow project is only getting somewhat of the original plan, the project isn’t healthy for the Arctic in any way.

This “carbon bomb” project is taking place in the most “untouched” region of the country highly endangering the flora and fauna of the ecosystem.

The project is critical to local wildlife and thousands of migratory birds arriving regularly in that region of Alaska.